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Re: [ontolog-forum] a skill of definition - "river"

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Steve Newcomb <srn@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Mon, 16 Feb 2009 11:51:31 -0500
Message-id: <49999993.1050108@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
John F. Sowa wrote:
>   1. Any classification that captures aspects of nature in a
>      discrete set of predicates is nearly always an approximation
>      intended for a particular purpose.
>   2. It is irrelevant whether those predicates are labeled by
>      words in a natural language or by artificial symbols.
>      The source of vagueness is in the subject matter, not
>      in the choice of language.
That formulation confuses things, because it blurs the crucial 
distinction between the kind of existence that a thing has, and the kind 
of existence that a subject of conversation has. Even when a subject of 
conversation (e.g. a particular rock) is a thing (e.g. the same rock) 
that has the first kind of existence, its existence as a subject of 
conversation is not that kind of existence. The two kinds of existence 
are not separate, but in some sense they are independent, because either 
can exist without the fact of the other.    (01)

The source of the vagueness is in the kind of existence that subjects of 
conversation have. It is not in the particular subject of conversation 
-- the "subject matter", as you put it, John. *All* subjects of 
conversation are vague, because every human consciousness is very much a 
world unto itself, whose isolation is relieved only by the signs it 
interprets and emits.    (02)

Every such isolated awareness-world is all about registering change. 
It's a verb. Every subject of conversation is a work in progress. Is a 
subject of conversation inherently vague? We'll never know, but I'd say 
"not necessarily"; it really depends on what's meant by the word 
"vague". Does the vagueness emanate from the changeability of the 
subject? Yes, but it's worse than that: it emanates from the changes 
that are ongoing in all the subjects of conversation that provide the 
context in which it has its identity. And yet worse: it emanates from 
the fact that the awareness-world itself is undergoing maintenance and 
re-organization by its human host. Any of these changes can 
revolutionize or even demolish a subject of conversation, rendering all 
that has been said about it obsolete, moot, or misleading.    (03)

Anyway, a sign-interpreting (and sign-emitting) awareness is more like a 
world than it is like a world-view, because the identities of all 
subjects of conversations depend on the identities of other subjects of 
conversation within such a world. And their identities do not actually 
depend on anything outside that world: not even on the kinds of things 
that have the first kind of existence.    (04)

Most of the effort in the ontology space is (rightly, I think) motivated 
by the goal of increasing the scopes of overlapping regions of groups of 
individual awareness-worlds, by means of rules. The rule-oriented nature 
of this work assumes a top-down approach. That is: the rules are prior 
to the overlaps.    (05)

I keep thinking that there should *also* be a bottom-up approach, in 
which the overlaps are prior to the rules. In such a bottom-up approach, 
the subjects of conversation are prior to everything, because they are 
the loci of overlap. They can act as de-facto wormholes between 
awareness-worlds, which is frankly what fascinates me about them. The 
existence of such wormholes is not necessarily supported by rules. After 
all, there can be no enclosing universe of rules within which all 
wormhole-connected universes are co-extensive.    (06)

But there can be rhetorics for asserting wormholes, that do not tread on 
the semantic spaces whose points they connect. I argue that a rhetoric 
for knowledge interchange that does not constrain rules or identities or 
rules for identification, and that permits a single subject of 
conversation to be seen as having different identities in different 
awareness-worlds, is desirable and useful. It's simple to do, and there 
are at least several ways to do it.    (07)

But this is an idea that seems to grate on many kinds of professionals, 
including, oddly enough, scientists -- the same people who are supposed 
to know in their bones that rule systems, even those that are useful in 
predicting natural phenomena, are artificial and never complete. (That 
in itself is pretty interesting. Is this really such a dangerous idea? 
If so, whose oxen get gored, and why do they care?)    (08)

Steve    (09)

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